Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was the team’s leading rusher in Week 1 vs the Los Angeles Rams. Allen presents a dynamic ability to neutralize defenses with his arm and legs—something the league has found to be a lethal combination. But Allen wasn’t the only one tasked with running the ball out of the backfield last Thursday night. So, how did the Bills utilize the running back position among their trio of backs?
- Devin Singletary 35 snaps 59%
- Zack Moss 22 snaps 37%
- James Cook 3 snaps 5%
Buffalo’s offense had 59 total snaps vs Los Angeles. The pecking order is pretty clear looking at these numbers, with Devin Singletary getting a majority of the load. It’s interesting to note that fullback Reggie Gilliam logged 19 snaps, which means the Bills used a fullback on 32% of their snaps—a surprising amount for a team that enjoys spreading out wide receivers and throwing the football. Snap counts are one metric to look at, but diving further into each player’s day can help us better measure their true usage.
Singletary produced a stat line of eight carries for 48 rushing yards and two receptions for 14 yards. It was evident he was the best back of the group that night, making quick, decisive cuts and running with authority. Churning out an impressive 6.0 yards per carry, Singletary further solidified his role as Buffalo’s lead back. One of his best carries of the night came in the third quarter on a 13-yard run where he made one cut up field and gained eight yards after contact, dragging a couple of defenders along the way. When watching the play, check out the superb athleticism on a reach block by center Mitch Morse (60).
Singletary certainly looked the part of a lead back and had the lion's share of snaps at his disposal, but he actually wound up second in total touches (10) among the team’s running backs.
Moss unexpectedly led Buffalo’s running backs in total touches (12) despite only being used on 22 snaps vs LA. He had six carries for a minuscule 15 yards but surprisingly had six receptions for 21 yards. Furthermore, Moss had the second-most receptions on the team AND caught all six of his targets! This is interesting considering rookie James Cook was thought to be drafted as the Bills’ primary pass-catching back, but there's more on that later. Here is a look at Zack Moss making a nice catch on the first drive of the game. Notice how he works to the sideline with Josh Allen to get open as he scrambles.
Despite Moss’s touches, he left a lot to be desired in the yardage department—only posting a pedestrian 2.5 yards per carry and 3.5 yards per reception. A fumble late in the fourth quarter was also on his stat sheet. That's not what you want to see, especially in the red zone. It remains to be seen how that fumble will effect his usage in the upcoming games. Devin Singletary was beyond a doubt the better back Thursday night and we should expect Zack Moss to remain a role player going forward.
The second-round rookie running back only logged three snaps in his NFL debut. On his first NFL carry Cook fumbled the football—just about the worst thing you can do as part of head coach Sean McDermott’s team. Cook had his number called for the first and only time early in the second quarter and then remained on the sidelines for the rest of the game. The fumble is one thing, but it hurts a little more when you take a closer look at the play to see “what could of been.” Watching the All-22 view shows that if Cook keeps the run off-tackle (Spencer Brown 79) instead of choosing to cut it up one hole sooner, there would be a much different story to tell about James Cook’s first NFL carry. The blocking on this play shaped out quite nicely!
Tight end Dawson Knox and Devin Singletary had a double-team kick-out block on the defensive end; offensive guard Ryan Bates and offensive tackle Spencer Brown executed a beautiful combo block on defensive tackle Aaron Donald allowing Spencer Brown to go to the second level to block a linebacker; and wide receiver Gabriel Davis worked to pin the safety to the inside. If Cook would have bumped it one hole to the outside he’d have been one-on-one with a corner... I’d take that any day of the week!
In a mic’d up video shared by the Buffalo Bills, Von Miller tells James Cook on the sidelines, “Got that out of the way,” referring to the fumble by Cook, “Go ahead take that s*** for 80 now.” Bills fans can only hope that Cook follows Von’s advice and takes his next carry for 80 yards! All in all, James Cook’s NFL debut was a wash, water under the bridge, burn-the-game-tape type of evening for him. Cook is a dynamic play maker with speed and lots of skill. Rest assured Bills fans, we’ll all get to witness it soon.
Buffalo’s running back hierarchy still needs some time to fully take shape. Zack Moss probably ended up seeing more playing time than originally planned because James Cook was in the Sean McDermott fumble dog house, but I would expect to see a heavier dose of Cook going forward. The usage of each back will definitely vary each week depending on the game plan. For the time being, we can assume that Devin Singletary is the “lead back” with James Cook and Zack Moss being situational players that Bills will use for exploiting a certain matchup they like on the opposing defense.